Miami-Dade County

Miami to consider Shula’s restaurant, casual pub for Coconut Grove waterfront

Imagine an elegant, two-story restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows on the Coconut Grove waterfront.

It’s a far cry from Scotty’s Landing, the watering hole that has drawn a steady stream of patrons to Dinner Key for more than three decades. But it may soon become a reality.

Scotty’s lease is up, and Miami city officials are considering a proposal to replace the landmark eatery, an affiliated marina and a fine restaurant nearby. The plan includes a casual pub that evokes the era of Charles Lindbergh, a high-end Peruvian seafood restaurant and a Shula’s Steak & Seafood — as well as a state-of-the-art boat storage facility, public promenade, banyan tree park, event space and a four-story parking garage.

“This will open up the waterfront for pedestrians,” said Richard Perez, of Grove Bay Investment Group, which is making the pitch. “We think people are going to fall in love with these plans, the architecture and the attention to detail.”

Grove Bay is the lone team vying for the job. A second team submitted proposal in May, but withdrew last week, citing “unforeseen circumstances.”

That doesn’t mean Grove Bay is certain to win the contract. Its proposal must still find support from a city-appointed selection committee, City Manager Johnny Martinez and the often unpredictable Miami City Commission.

Miami has already flubbed the procurement process once. City administrators issued a request for proposals for the project last year, but tossed the submissions after finding “irregularities” with the competitive bidding process. They started over in January.

Public Facilities Director Henry Torre said he could not comment on the latest RFP because it is under the “cone of silence,” a measure intended to prevent lobbying. Martinez also declined to comment.

But Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said he likes Grove Bay’s proposal — and is hopeful the city will move forward this time.

“This is what the waterfront needs,” Sarnoff said.

Scotty’s Landing, formerly known as Captain Dick’s Shack, has stood beside Miami City Hall for the past 35 years. Its owner, Scott Wessel, also operates Grove Key Marina on the waterfront property.

The laid-back eatery is a South Florida institution. Getting there requires trekking through a boatyard, and sometimes ducking a forklift or two. But the regulars won’t go anywhere else for a dolphin sandwich and draft beer.

Scotty’s patrons were outraged when city leaders issued the initial request for proposals for entrepreneurs interested in taking over the restaurant and marina last year. The city put out a separate request for restaurateurs interested in remaking the nearby Chart House, an upscale seafood restaurant.

But Martinez scrapped the two RFPs last summer, and later decided to issue a call for a single group interested in developing the marina, casual eatery and upscale restaurant. The team would also be required to build a parking garage.

Two groups responded by the May deadline: Grove Bay and Veleta LLC.

Veleta’s proposal included a tiki bar and upscale seafood restaurant. But the group withdrew its name last week after encountering “unforeseen issues,” Key Biscayne businessman Jose Cajiga said, declining to elaborate.

Grove Bay’s proposed development is known as The Harbour. Eduardo Garcia and Giraldo Leyva Jr. are the primary managers. The modern, maritime-inspired design was created by Arquitectonica International.

Under the proposal, the Chart House would be replaced by Shula’s and the Peruvian restaurant. A casual eatery called Hangar 42 Pub & Grub would replace Scotty’s.

The group is planning to raise at least $17.9 million in private investment to fund the project. Grove Bay is guaranteeing Miami rent payments of at least $1.4 million annually, according to the proposal. They expect to pay the city upwards of $27 million during construction and over the first 10 years of operation.

Grove Bay has also pledged to contribute $30,000 annually toward scholarships for African-American students interested in the hospitality industry, and to create an onsite student mentoring program.

Noticeably missing from the latest round of proposals was Scott Wessel, the current owner and operator.

Wessel had submitted a proposal to update Scotty’s and Grove Key Marina during last year’s RFP process. But he soon found himself at the center of a heated dispute over $2.5 million in back taxes owed on the property, and facing a $400,000 bill from the city for unpaid fuel surcharges.

A judge has since determined that the city — not Wessel — was responsible for the unpaid property taxes. The fuel-surcharge issue is being litigated. Still, it was enough to discourage Wessel from trying to win a new contract this year.

“We had wanted to be involved in the RFP process,” he said. “But with the lawsuits, the headlines and the political environment, I chose not to participate.”

The proposal from Grove Bay will likely face resistance from Scotty’s loyalists, who have protested past attempts to gut the restaurant and build something more chic in its place.

“The city should save Scotty’s,” said Ron Higgins, a longtime Grovite who visits the restaurant multiple times a week with his dogs. “The city should not touch it because it is unique. It’s one of a kind. I just can’t see why they want to turn us into Miami Beach.”

Hadley Williams, another Grove resident, said the development would “overwhelm the area.”

“It’s too much,” he said. “And it’s going to kill the businesses in the Center Grove.”

But some residents concede that the waterfront needs a facelift, and are supporting the new pitch.

“I really like the way the restaurants look from an architectural perspective, and I like the fact that it provides public access to the water,” said Michelle Niemeyer, who sits on the Cocoanut Grove Village Council.

Wessel, too, gave his stamp of approval.

“It’s an amazing development,” he said. “We’ll see how the process pans out.”